Peterborough’s £80 million new employer-focused university, ARU Peterborough, has a mission to tackle the higher education “cold spots” across Lincolnshire in an effort to improve social mobility and provide the region with the core higher skills that industries are calling for.
ARU Peterborough identified social mobility as one of the biggest limiting factors for the county’s growth, believing that large scale uptake of higher education at all levels could bring greater prosperity to the region.
Lincolnshire finds itself in what the university describes as a higher education “cold spot” (a term that refers to lower than average levels of participation in higher education and lack of specific types of higher education courses or institutions.) where just 21.6 percent of the local population currently hold a degree level qualification in comparison to the national average of 43 percent.
The county is also falling short when it comes to social mobility, South Kesteven ranks 116th out of 324 local authority districts, With North Lincolnshire ranked 237th where high levels of in-work poverty and precarious employment options are common.
In response, the university has worked with over 170 employers and businesses to co-create courses ranging from nursing and biomedical sciences to engineering, construction and computer science, to allow the people of Peterborough and the surrounding towns and villages to pursue higher education that is intrinsically linked to exciting local career paths.
Since its conception, ARU Peterborough – a partnership between Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), Peterborough City Council (PCC) and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) –has offered degree courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level as well as apprenticeships and qualifications specifically designed to help those who have been out of work for some time.courses are offered at undergraduate and postgraduate level as well as apprenticeships and qualifications specifically designed to help those who have been out of work for some time.
Professor Ross Renton, Principal of ARU Peterborough said: “Social mobility is the key to unlocking the full potential of Lincolnshire and we believe that it can be stimulated by a great education, innovation and research. A common misconception about Lincolnshire and the surrounding areas is that you have to leave in order to progress in life. Unfortunately, many people do make the move before they get the chance to explore the many amazing companies surrounding us that are eager to find talented individuals.
“We know that combatting an issue of this magnitude needs an innovative solution and the model we have created at ARU Peterborough is designed to change this mindset and retain the individuals who live in our community and can positively contribute to our economy.”
Although in its infancy, the efforts that the university has taken to tackle social mobility across Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire areas have already been nationally recognised. In October last year, the university was awarded the University of the Year title at the UK Social Mobility Awards for the role that ARU Peterborough has played in advancing social mobility across the city and the wider region.
Fifty-three percent of ARU Peterborough’s undergraduate 2023 applications came from a PE postcode – some of which reside within Lincolnshire – and with innovative new facilities opening in September and investment planned in the coming years, the work to uplift the region particularly in South Lincolnshire and South Kesteven has only just begun.
Case study – Dan Arrowsmith – Former chef finds it’s never too late to learn
43-year-old Dan Arrowsmith from Peterborough had his academic ambitions dampened when he left school without any GCSEs and was told he should look for a vocational trade. Struggling with his dyslexia, Dan spent 22 years working in kitchens climbing the ranks to head chef before life became very difficult. Finding himself without work during the pandemic, Dan returned to college to retake his exams passing them with merits and distinctions.
Aged 42, Dan took on a challenge that many his age would not dream of doing and applied to ARU Peterborough to take on a biomedical degree.
“I always had an interest in science but because I left school without any qualifications, I never really believed that I could do it. I spent 22 years working in kitchens and left after life became difficult. I thought I would try my hand at plumbing, but the pandemic put a stop to that. After I retook and passed my exams, I wanted to explore a career I found interesting and that I could excel in. ARU Peterborough looked ideal as it was right on my doorstep, so I submitted my application and started my journey on a biomedical degree course.”
Despite his struggles at school, Dan has been able to thrive in a university environment. His tutors have provided him with support for his dyslexia and the range of modules and resources online have allowed him to study at home, away from distraction.
Alongside his academic studies, ARU Peterborough’s links with industry partners have allowed Dan to work part time in a biomedical laboratory, something that has enhanced his learning.
“The university got me the job at a local lab and it’s been great to be able to get that hands on experience with my degree course while also earning some money. Working in a lab is a lot like working in kitchens, so I think my previous experience is quite useful most of the time. Even with the academic side of things, I keep surprising myself with how well I’m doing. If I look back at where I was when I left school and how I am today, I feel really proud of what I have achieved.”
For Dan, going to university in his 40s has been a positive experience that has opened the door to opportunities he never knew he would be able to grasp. He is now using his experience to help people understand that it is never too late to learn.
“I feel more prepared for university life now in my 40s than I did when I was 18. I’ve had the chance to experience life, work in interesting places and all of that experience has helped me when learning something new. It’s never too late to learn or change your career path so long as you knuckle down and work hard at it, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.”